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5 science-backed tips to beat the postholiday slump at work (Fast Company)

Research suggests that there are steps anyone can take to boost their motivation at work.

5 Tactics to Combat a Culture of False Urgency at Work

(Originally published in Fast Company. Image: Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels)

After the chaos and joy of December’s festivities, January ‘tis the season for the postholiday blues.

Shifting gear from leisurely mornings, gift exchanges, and celebratory toasts back to business meetings, tight deadlines, and stressful work culture can be a tough adjustment. However, you don’t need to return to work in despair. Instead, you can overcome the postholiday work slump with key insights from the science of motivation and the science of emotions. Consider these five proven strategies for a smoother return to work:


First, ask yourself if some of the dread you feel is related to an overflowing inbox. Or the idea that you need to hit the ground running. If so, it’s no wonder you may feel overwhelmed. Fortunately, decades of research shows that reappraising how you think about the situation can help you change how you feel.

The fact is that almost everyone is slow to gear up after the holiday season, so don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself to kick off the year at full speed. Instead, think about your first week back as a warm-up, like stretching before going for a run.

Define the tasks you’ll focus on and set realistic boundaries regarding the number of meetings you can attend and requests you can handle that first week. Proactively communicate these priorities to your manager and team, so they know what to expect. Setting realistic expectations will reduce your frustration and stress in the short term and prevent burnout over time.


Three basic psychological needs—autonomy, competence, and relatedness—are vital to maintaining motivation at work. Consider which of these needs might be unmet for you at work during this new season.

Are you craving more autonomy? If so, look for a project that aligns with your interests and suggest to your manager that you get involved. Do you desire a greater sense of mastery? If so, take charge of your development by identifying the areas you want to grow this year and some resources for learning, such as online courses, webinars, or books. Alternatively, identify a new skill or hobby completely unrelated to your job.

Finally, consider your work relationships. If you lack a sense of connection with your colleagues, consider how you can deepen or expand these relationships. Social support at work can improve your motivation and your mental and physical health.

These simple self-driven steps can help boost your motivation, overcome postholiday slump, and foster your long-term professional growth and satisfaction.


Every new year offers a fresh start, often inspiring us to set big aspirational goals for ourselves, at work and in life. While setting goals is generally effective, goals that are overly challenging decrease motivation and discourage you, leading many workers to accomplish even less—and then feel lousy about it.

Instead, think about making micro-shifts. For instance, instead of a list of big New Year’s resolutions, set one or two small but achievable goals for January. What will get you ahead isn’t your biggest goals per se but rather your consistent small efforts over time.

Or, you can switch up your humdrum morning routine to instill some novelty. For instance, can you set aside 10 minutes for something you enjoy, such as reading or savoring your favorite expresso drink, before checking your email? Starting your morning with a quick, enjoyable activity can set a positive tone for the entire day.


Do you feel like returning to work means an end to all the fun and a return to drudgery? If so, planning some fun events to look forward to can make it easier. Research suggests that anticipating positive events boosts our mood and helps us cope with and recover from stressors.

This can also apply to work. Sure, being productive at work is important, but that doesn’t have to preclude joy. Try setting up a quick lunch or coffee with colleagues you enjoy and haven’t seen in a while.

And while you may have just finished up a vacation, now is precisely the time to start planning your next one. The good news is that you don’t have to plan something lengthy and involved to get many of the vacation benefits. In fact, taking shorter breaks throughout the year may benefit your mental well-being and performance more than taking one long vacation.

Vacations increase positive emotions, but that happiness boost can be short-lived. Fortunately, anticipating your trip yields an extended period of increased happiness. So take out your calendar, pick a couple of long weekends, and prepare to enjoy the many benefits of shorter recharges.


Reflecting on and appreciating what you enjoy about your job can be a powerful tool to improve your mood and beat back the postholiday slump.

For example, consider your professional growth and the new skills and knowledge you’ve gained. Alternatively, consider the positive impacts of your work or the aspects of your job that align with your interests or passions. Or appreciate the relationships you’ve built at work and think about supportive colleagues, mentors, or the camaraderie within your team.

Focusing on these positive aspects can help shift your perspective and rekindle your enthusiasm for your work.

By combining these scientifically proven strategies, you can create a more positive and productive return to work. Remember, it’s normal to feel a bit sluggish after a break. Being patient with yourself—and others—as you readjust is key.


With daily fires to fight and limited space to think, I understand how the pressures rob your clarity. As a certified executive coach, I help senior leaders gain fresh perspective, confidence, and new capabilities that accelerate their success. Work with Dina


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